A Timeless Linen Affair – Hear The Whisper of Summer Breeze With The New John Robert Archetype
Editor’s note: We were generously loaned the new John Robert Archetype watches that are being released shortly on Kickstarter. Stunning looks, the duality of being a dress and tool watch, and exceptional value for money is their calling card. For the latter, you don’t have to take our word for it. We have placed this watch alongside a whopping 20+ other timepieces from the industry to showcase how this really is a value for money proposition. We spent a few days wearing them — they come in two variations, Automatic and HAQ (High Accuracy Quartz) — and here’s our honest hands-on review that details our first impressions, on-the-wrist experience and where it sits amongst other watches it competes with. Like all of our work, this is not a sponsored post.
Every Man Is A Quotation From All His Ancestors
One may go through life collecting timepieces from the best there is. It could be a Patek or a Rolex. But if it’s got no meaning behind it, it’s just an object. As much as someone like Sammy Davis Jr might want to wear it inside their own coffin, it doesn’t amount to much more. You stop ticking, the timepiece will eventually wind down too.
But the idea of an heirloom, an object that can be passed on and cherished brings about a sense of validity to this craze called obsessive watch collecting we are all victims of. Patek does this the best, their tagline from 1996 says it all – ‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation’.
The new John Robert Archetype is here to continue that tradition.
It even comes with its own soundtrack, albeit unofficial. Lyrics from a song by the American singer-songwriter Don McLean compliment this new linen dial beauty that comes in stunning white, blue and charcoal grey colours succinctly – “Paint your palette blue and gray, Look out on a summer’s day… In colours on the snowy linen land”.
The new John Robert Archetype being released on Kickstarter this January 30th with its graceful linen strokes catches the Australian summer notes and sings a tune of horological beauty.
As far as the unboxing goes, the watch doesn’t come in an over-the-top, hard to store, environmentally unconscious, huge box. On the outside, it is very modern, clean and has a soft, supple yet sturdy feel.
On the inside, enough padding with the felt material is present for peace of mind and there are slots for multiple straps and the timepiece.
It is worthwhile here to note that while we received two straps and a bracelet for this review, for the Kickstarter campaign, it will be one leather strap and one bracelet. After that, the price on the website will apply to the Archetype on a leather strap, and the bracelet will be an additional $90 USD. The leather straps will also be separately available for $65 USD.
- Highlight: The new John Robert Archetype comes inside a beautiful Burgundy custom leather watch wallet with subtly embossed logo and branding.
- Suggestion: A small cleaning cloth would be a nice added detail.
- Takeaway: I am impressed by the different direction taken by the brand, one that is not only environmentally and space-conscious, but also lets you have timepiece in a premium packaging. The leather case also has a Berluti-like faux-patina look to it, that brings to it a sense of timeless mystique.
The new John Robert Archetype collection is currently offered in the above mentioned three dial colour options, all bearing the quintessential custom-designed summer linen dial, though the white version is more like the ‘Indian Khadi Linen’ and the charcoal version is more like the ‘Shantung’ dials.
These can be paired with two leather straps with signed stainless steel tang buckles — orange/light brown and dark brown — or a 5 D-link with brushed outer links and polished centre links stainless steel Rolex style ’Jubilee’ bracelet, all featuring the ever-useful quick-change mechanism.
For this review, we were sent the white/cream and charcoal/dark grey dialled watch options. The version in blue looks great too but we were unable to get it for this hands-on review.
When I first looked at the bracelet, I honestly didn’t know what to think about the jubilee bracelet; on one hand, it is exceptionally finished especially coming from a new, micro brand. But then the constant reminder that it’s inspired by the iconic Rolex jubilee bracelet made me dubious.
But you know what, after mulling it over for a while, I reckon it doesn’t matter. Does it look great? Yes. Is it comfortable? Yes. Does it add to the tool watch appeal of the watches? Yes. Do I like it? Yes.
Plus, its got a Jaeger-LeCoultre style butterfly clasp that makes it different than all the bracelet watches I have reviewed this year. True, this can have adjustability issues, but at least the brand is trying to put their own spin on things. Suffice to say, when I am looking at acquiring this piece for myself — yes, I like it that much — I will be getting it on the bracelet.
- Highlight – The universally easy to swap 20mm interhorn lug spacing and that exceptionally finished, and very comfortable five-link ‘Jubilee’ bracelet.
- Suggestion – The way the case-back is designed in conjunction with the lugs and the holes for the pins, the leather straps — straps themselves are nice and resemble the ones sometimes used by Hublot — touch and damage against the case. If I may recommend, and I hope the brand takes this in the right spirit, they should include either curved-end straps or ones that do not touch the case.
- As a suggestion, I have included photos below with a personal WatchGecko strap that shows how there is a hairline gap between the strap and the case-back, and this is not even a curved-end strap.
- Takeaway: The new John Robert Archetype is elegance personified on the steel bracelet.
A Breeze of Nostalgia Seduces Time
The next aspect that grabs you is the superb finishing and attention to detail, both of which I hadn’t expected from a company this young. Not only that, the mixture of elements such as a 38mm diameter, linen dial, sharp indices, sapphire crystal and a screw-down crown bring the best of 70s to the present day.
From the embossed logo, the applied markers on the dial and the execution of the linen effect, to the case-finishing with a mix of polished and brushed surfaces accentuated by highly bevelled planes and the Geneva Stripes on the movement, the new John Robert Archetype packs a wallop.
Out of the two colours, both have their advantages: on the white, the linen texture is visible both from a distance and upfront, and it is just divine to look at with the changing light. It’s more for those who like to make a statement. The charcoal one is more of an understated linen look, one that springs to life under certain lights, and is for those you appreciate understated elegance.
- Takeaway: It’s uncommon for a watch design to look effortlessly good in any avatar it is presented in; The Archetype breaks that mould by offering colours that should please everyone.
The X-factor or Summer Never Dies With The Archetype
Watch micro-brands usually have an up hill climb establishing themselves. To be brutally honest, lots fail.
MING is one brand that comes to mind that beat the odds and has gained so much traction — and justifiably so — that it’s perhaps not fair to label them as a micro-brand any more. MING’s design language, their clutter-free dials, all combine together to have that identifiable X-factor.
The new John Robert Archetype in my honest opinion manages to come up with its own identity, one that’s more apparent in person than in pictures.
And it’s that linen dial.
But it’s not just that; it’s the wrist feel that acts as a solid foundation too. On paper, the timepieces are pretty standard with trustworthy, common movements, universally acceptable 38mm diameter and featuring a simple date complication.
But the Archetype shines through as a sum of these five parts: the linen dial, case, finishing, legibility, and the duality of use. There is also a sixth component, the value proposition, and we will talk about it further on in greater detail.
Prepare yourselves, get a snack, this review is about to get long.
The Linen Dial
It is a study in elegance and beauty. Linen dials are not only uncommon in the industry but its execution here has been exceptional as well. According to the founder the pattern was drawn line by line, and has been set deeply into the dial, creating striking visual depth which can only truly be experienced on the wrist.
As far as I know, besides the very rare inclusions such as the Rolex Datejust ref. 16030 in 36mm diameter, Tudor Prince Oysterdate and Eterna-Matic 3000 models, linens dials are like a Covid-19-free state; exceedingly limited.
Back in the 1960s, there used to be the Omega Seamaster ref. 135.003-62-SC featuring the Omega manually-wound calibre 286 that had some great looking white linen dials. The current Omega DeVille Prestige collection has some dials that resemble silk and linen as well.
Seiko/Grand Seiko have also undertaken some great looking linen dials in the past as well, such as the mesmerising ref. 5646-8000 from 1970s.
The lack of linen dials in current catalogues doesn’t mean that the Archetype is swimming alone though.
Within the price point of the new John Robert Archetype is the white linen dialled Aevig Thor, that features the Miyota 8N33 manual-wind movement and retails for around 850 AUD. It provides a similar 40-hour power reserve and comes in a 40mm diameter case. Sellita vs Miyota, I will leave the decision up to you, but this timepiece comes very close to competing with the Archetype.
The Aevig Thor is handsome watch no doubt, but that said, given it is sans date, I would choose the Archetype, but that’s my personal preference – I like to have a calendar complication on my watches.
- Takeaway: What I really admire about the execution and inclusion of linen dials on the new John Robert Archetype watches is that these timepieces bring to the dive watch heavy industry a much needed break in the form of timeless charm that combines vintage watches with modern aesthetics.
The case architecture works on four levels here:
- The case size of 38mm is an excellent in-between size, one that won’t annoy those with larger wrists and won’t look out-of-place on smaller ones. Both the automatic and quartz versions sit low on the wrist, hugging it like second skin. In-fact, the wrist feel for these watches is one of the most comfortable I have had in a while.
- Owing to a thin bezel, the dial takes centre stage, and in my opinion, the overall case will work for anyone who prefers 36mm to 40mm diameter watches. On my 16cm and a bit wrist, it hit the sweet spot with its short lugs and overall lug-to-lug measuring in at 45mm. The inclusion of a mix of highly brushed and polished surfaces adds visual nuance to the body, with the mirror-polished chamfer that runs along the edge of the case providing an effect similar to Christopher Ward’s light-catcher cases.
- Since there is a thickness difference between the two versions — automatic is 12.4mm and HAQ is 11.4mm — the resulting 1mm difference provides a dressy advantage to the case design of the HAQ version. On the automatic version, there is a slight increase of the brushed surface that provides certain heft aesthetic to the watch. I reckon on the wrist the automatic version is more 60-40 in favour of tool watch look while the case architecture of the HAQ is more complimenting towards the dressy side, mostly owing to the proportions of the case side, lugs and the mix of brushed and polished surfaces.
- Another feature I liked was that at this price point, the brand has thankfully opted for a sapphire crystal instead of cheaper and more scratch magnet options used by say the likes of UNDONE watches. This 4.3mm thick domed box sapphire crystal — with three layers of anti-reflective coating on the inside — is designed to replicate the look of vintage watches from 60s and does its part by lending timeless aesthetic to the timepiece
- The sharp mirror polished dauphine minute hands and indices are a bit JLC meets Grand Seiko, but without seeming overly copied. In fact, come to think about it, add Rolex and Eterna-Matic linen dials to the mix, and you get the new Archetype.
- The date window at 3’o clock is sharp and clear. The dial is geometrically symmetrical and the signature — that also happens to be my initials — as the second’s hand counterweight is a welcome touch.
The highly polished razor-sharp markers glisten against the silvery-white or charcoal-black dial, striking hours with mind-boggling legibility. I also appreciate the attention to detail with the way the minute hand extends precisely to the end of the minute track.
The minute and hour hands also feature the Swiss Grade X1 Superluminova in-fill which is again impressive at this price point and helps in better time readability under darker lighting conditions.
The Duality aka Versatility
- Another feature is the duality. The design language incorporates elements from both dress and sports watches, lending to it a dress-tool watch vibe, one that can be paired up or down. The inclusion of the option of either a leather strap or classic steel bracelet, both with quick-change spring bars, is appreciated and goes a long way in establishing the duality of this timepiece.
- Not just the straps though; the inclusion of lume of the hands, the presence of a screw-down crown and screw-down caseback (on the automatic version), and the daily-wearable water-resistance of 100m, all help take this elegant timepiece from the boardroom to the ballroom to the dance floor to the beach with ease.
The Value Proposition
Let’s examine this by looking at the one timepiece it really, really feels inspired by. That is the BALL Trainmaster Eternity ref. NM2080D-S1J-SL.
Similar hands, similar indices, a textured dial, similar second’s hand counterweight design, and similar minimalistic branding on the dial. It even comes in similar three colours of black, blue or silver.
The ref. NM2080D-S1J-SL even features the Ball Watch calibre RR1102 which is based on the ETA 2836-2 which is essentially a day-date version of the ETA 2824-2 which in turn is the ETA version of Sellita’s SW200-1 that’s found in the Archetype.
But the kicker here is, and read this carefully, that while the Archetype costs only $959 USD, the BALL offering costs a substantially higher $2’329 USD. No doubt that the BALL Trainmaster Eternity is a stunner, but compared to the John Robert offering, is only 30m water-resistant and comes in a larger Ø39.5mm.
- Takeaway: This is where John Robert watches score, and score big – the value proposition. We have actually compared it to a fair number of watches below in our ‘The Hero” section and frankly, you would be hard-pressed to find a watch with similar classy aesthetics and specs for this price.
Our Hero – The Uniqueness
We believe that the new John Robert Archetype, both the HAQ and Automatic versions are pretty unique. But don’t just take our word for it. This is where we paint the landscape, pitching both of them against a plethora of other watches.
The HAQ Movement Version Landscape
We look below at a number of watches this competes with, but the bottom line is, it would a Herculean task finding a better HAQ option for this price of $489 USD (or during the 30-day Kickstarter pre-order for only $389 USD) with a pretty darn good ±10 seconds per year accuracy.
- Longines turned heads at Baselworld 2017 with the introduction of the Conquest V.H.P. (Very High Precision) that boasts of ±5 seconds per year accuracy. Compared to the Archetype, this simple three-hand with date version on a steel bracelet, the ref. L3.722.214.171.124 retails for a higher $1’600 AUD and comes in a chunkier 43mm diameter. Two watches for very different wrist sizes.
- Still with Longines, the new model ref. L3.7126.96.36.199 again retails for a higher $1’125 AUD and comes in a smaller yet still larger than the Archetype 41mm diameter case. Featuring the L157 calibre, it is impressively 300m water-resistant owing to the screw-down caseback and crown. It does have the impressive history of the brand to back it up but also costs almost as much the automatic version of the Archetype.
- The Bulova Precisionist is one offering that I reckon gives some competition to the Archetype. The ref. 96B252 retails for $599 AUD and is powered by the brand’s proprietary three-prong quartz crystal Precisionist movement with a 262kHz vibrational frequency. Pricing wise it is comparable to the Archetype but aesthetics wise, not only it is again larger at 43mm diameter like the Longines option, it is also not exactly a dressy watch. Also, the movement provides for a very smooth second’s hand sweep but doesn’t match the ± 10 seconds per year accuracy. You win some, you lose some.
- Grand Seiko, the granddaddy of quartz movements has the famous 9F calibre, but those timepieces are in the thousands mark. So are the Breitling SuperQuartz and the Omega Spacemaster Z-33 timepieces. The Citizen Chronomaster models equal the above Longines accuracy of ± five seconds per year but are even costlier than the Longines options.
- The Tissot Goldrun collection also uses the same ETA E64.111 movement but owing to precious material cases, the watches retail at a significantly higher price
- The Seiko ref. SACM171 on the other hand gives the Archetype a fierce competition, featuring the calibre 8J41 with ±10 seconds accuracy per year. It also features a sapphire crystal top and a similar 38.9mm diameter. It is also thinner at 5.3mm and retails for a similar price mark. It doesn’t obviously have the Swiss-made mark that many watches enthusiasts swear by, though personally, I am a fan of Seiko’s entry-level watches, so can’t fault these. But, and a big but, these don’t have the mesmerising linen dials and the timeless appeal.
- Wrapping up this comparison within the HAQ movement section is the new Wempe Iron Walker ref. WI000006 also features the same movement and a design language very similar to the Archetype. Elegant as it is — that blue is gorgeous — it retails for a significantly higher $2’050 USD, roughly four times the price of the Archetype.
- Of-course when it comes to HAQ movements, the Citizen ‘The Citizen’ Chronomaster AB9000-61E is the benchmark, often being unofficially touted as the most accurate watch ever. It is COSC-certified but is also more than $3000 AUD.
- Takeaway: In a nutshell, the combination of the cost of only $489 USD, the inclusion of a Swiss-made HAQ movement, svelte sizing and the use of the rather rare linen dial make the new John Robert Archetype formidable force in the segment it is operating in and really a no-brainer.
The Automatic Movement Version Landscape
The automatic version is where things get a bit tricky. The Sellita SW200-1 used by John Robert is a trusty workhorse movement, and as such is very extensively used. We again look below at a number of watches this competes with, and again for the price of $979 USD (or during the 30-day Kickstarter pre-order for only $789 USD) it seems to be a formidable new force in the industry. The criterion here is the cost of watches with a Swiss movement with similar specs.
- Baume & Mercier use the Sellita SW200 movement extensively. It is the same as used by the Archetype. The Baume & Mercier Baume ref. 10587 BAUME OCEAN Limited Edition WFO is around 2K AUD and the entry-level Classima ref. 10453 which directly competes with the Archetype is around 1.5K AUD. Again, both distinctive but pricier and Baume & Mercier currently doesn’t do linen dials. It would be an interesting match if they did though.
- Formex is a brand that I have always had a soft spot for, curiously keeping an eye on what they have been doing. And I gotta tell you, their watches are handsome and pricing is very competitive. For instance, the upcoming Formex Essence Thirty Nine features the same SW200-1 movement but the highest possible COSC-certified version and measures a similar 39mm. It costs $1’390 USD, about 400 bucks more.
- Then there is also the Eterna Eternity ref. 2700.41.10.1736 that again has the same movement and similar timeless looks — minus the linen dial — but again retails for a higher price between $1’500 to 2’000 AUD.
- The one brand that does seem to rival this is Farer. Their Hopewell II collection starts at £860 which is costlier than the Archetype but is backed by a now established brand. They feature the same movement but in a larger case size of 39.5mm diameter, and feature a lower 50m water-resistance which frankly is a bummer. I do love the looks of their offerings, but they don’t do linen dials though. More importantly here, between the two, Farer uses a lower grade of the same movement, the special or the Elabore version that is accurate to ±20 sec/day compared to the Archetype’s Premium (Top) movement grade that is accurate to ±4 sec/day up to ±15 sec/day.
- Another watch that competes is the Archimede Classic 39 that retails for a similar albeit slightly higher €721.34. I don’t know what grade of SW200-1 it is but it like the Farer option has a lower 50m water-resistance.
- The Seiko offering that does have a linen-esque dial is the Baselworld 2017 debut, the Seiko Presage SARX055 or the ‘Baby GS Snowflake’. It features the Seiko 6R15 automatic, is made out of titanium, and boasts of a 100m water-resistance. Compared to the Archetype, it comes in the larger 40.8mm diameter with a larger 46.2mm lug-to-lug as well. Also, the movement offers an accuracy of +25/-15 sec per day that is slightly weaker than the ±4 sec/day up to ±15 sec/day of the Archetype. The retail is also very similar, $968 USD compared to $959 USD. I guess on paper with this last one it boils down to wrist size preference, accuracy expectations, and personal preference of Swiss or Japanese. That said, the linen dial on the Archetype is far more ‘linen-like’ whereas the one on the Seiko option is more like washi paper. But man, that washi paper dial is mesmerizing as well.
- Takeaway: Just like the HAQ version, if accuracy, sizing and pricing are important to you, at least on paper the specifications of the new John Robert Archetype read better than the competition within the same retail — not discounted or grey market — price range. Combine that with a much higher water-resistant case of the Archetype than most, and you have a winner on your hands.
Bottomline For The Comparisons
The Archetype is a pretty special and unique offering, one that fills a void in the price segment it is operating in. And even when any other watch comes close to matching its specs or pricing, the linen dials prove to be worthy competitors.
Look, to be honest, all the watches I have mentioned above are good in their own rights, and frankly, you can’t go wrong with any. From the reliability of Longines offerings to distinctive of Farer, from the timeless looks of the BALL Eternity to the tool-watch appeal of Formex, there’s something for everyone. At the end of the day, it boils down to personal tastes, as there are lots of watches that offer good value propositions.
But when it comes to linen dialled workhorse Swiss-made movement watches, the Archetype offers great value proposition. That’s the difference.
Plus, and a big plus for us, is that it’s an Aussie brand!
Quench Your Horological Thirst
Let’s talk a little bit more — because you obviously haven’t had enough of me rambling on about these watches in detail — about the movements we have touched in briefly above.
- The HAQ ETA FLATLINE
The E64.111 PreciDrive is a 25.60mm diameter and 1.95mm thick movement featuring 8 jewels and a date display at 3’o clock. It is a High Accuracy Quartz powered by the precision ETA E64.111, accurate up to ± 10 seconds per year.
Coming in at pretty much half the price of the automatic version, it’s interesting to note that the quartz option makes the timepiece more affordable to watch enthusiasts from all walks of life. At the same time, the automatic version for only $959 USD is competitively priced and should receive support from collectors.
Even though the movement can not be admired through an exhibition caseback, one can still appreciate the inclusion of the deep-stamped 3D backplate with the branding and logo.
- Takeaway: Being a Swiss-made ETA movement, if I am not wrong up until a few years ago it was also used in the Omega Aqua Terra quartz watches. The point I am trying to make is that the movement one is getting for the price is a pretty good deal.
- The Sellita SW200-1
The calibre Sellita SW200-1 used in the mechanical version is a 25.6mm diameter and 4.6mm thick self-winding movement beating at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h), comprises of 26 jewels, features customised Geneva Stripes and logo finish on the rotor, and features a 38-hour power reserve and central hacking seconds mechanism along with an anti-shock system.
One final point about the mechanical version. More often than not, you would notice that lots of new Kickstarter and micro-brands offer competitive watches but with the NH35A automatic movement.
These stock standard Japanese TMI NH35A Automatic Winding Mechanism (supplied by SEIKO Manufacturing (H.K.) Limited) usually offer accuracy of about -20 ~ +40 seconds per day, and while watches with these might be slightly cheaper, they don’t beat with the improved accuracy of the movement inside the Archetype, with its ±4 sec/day up to ±15 sec/day accuracy.
- Takeaway: Both the ETA FLATLINE E64.111 and the SW200-1 Top Grade movements used by John Robert Watches are reliable, trustworthy, pretty accurate and it appears that the brand has done its research and is presenting the watch community with exceptional timepieces.
The Summer Breeze aka The Wrap
I must have said this a million times in this review, so I guess once more can not hurt – the linen dial is absolutely gobsmackingly fabulous.
This linen-like textile pattern is usually achieved by creating imperfect but deliberate crosshatch engravings on the watch dials, and especially on the white dialled version, the silvered slivers of crosshatch engravings are drool-worthy.
Coming full circle, wrapping up from where we began, is the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote we used earlier: “Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors”.
In a world where hundreds of new watches are released every year, the new John Robert Archetype it appears has managed to charter its own unique course.
- Highly versatile and quaintly purdy, it is the perfect distillation of what makes a great heirloom watch.
To support the watch and the brand, head to their website here and sign up for the Kickstarter campaign notification. To show our support, we have. All images are ©Watchyagonnadoaboutit unless otherwise stated. We again wish to offer our thanks to John Robert Barclay for sending these prototypes to review. And yes, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody!